A senior Ulster Unionist MLA has ruled out any early leadership contest in the troubled party
Basil McCrea, who failed in a previous bid to lead the UUP has instead called for Tom Elliott to lead a review of the party’s structures and direction.
“We are three or four days out of the election, everyone is tired, people have come through a very long and exhausting election battle. We are just finding out where we are and where we are going to and that will be led by Tom. This is not the time to discuss the leadership,” Mr McCrea said.
His intervention relieves the immediate pressure on Mr Elliott who has already defused some of the tension within the party by rowing back on his “Sinn Fein scum” jibes during his acceptance speech at the count in Omagh Leisure centre.
Some party sources believe that the period of reflection may be little more than a stay of execution for Mr Elliott. They point out that there is still time for a stalking horse candidate to test Mr Elliott's support. Leadership nominations do not close until today at 5pm so there is still time for a stalking horse candidate to be fielded.
Sir Reg Empey, the last leader of the UUP, led a similar review of the party and resigned at the end of it. Like this review the last one followed a severe electoral setback. In that instance it was the loss of all the party’s seats in the Westminster General Election.
This time Mr Elliott will be carrying out the review against the background of the party’s lowest ever vote, its reduction to one ministry in Stormont and the loss of all but three of its seats in Belfast City council.
Mr McCrea had stood against Mr Elliott in last year’s leadership contest after Sir Reg resigned. There had been moves to propose him as a candidate at the AGM on June 4th but he has now ruled this out.
Mr McCrea endorsed the criticisms of David McClarty, the former UUP MLA who was elected as an independent after being deselected and refusing to rejoin the party.
Mr McCrea said: “I accept the criticisms that David McClarty made. For all the right reasons we came up with a structure that frankly doesn’t serve the party well.
“Getting people elected requires good organisation, good branding, good candidates to build a profile.”